The University of Richmond sexual misconduct policy has expanded from three pages to 31 pages, and now includes details on the definition of consent, clauses on domestic violence and overhaul to the policies on stalking, among other changes.
Administrators at a town hall forum in Ukrop Auditorium announced the new policy Wednesday night.
University of Richmond was named one of 76 colleges under investigation by the federal government last year for Title IX violations.
“I would say that these policy reviews would be happening regardless of what is going on with the complaint that the university is currently under,” said Joe Boehman, dean of Richmond College, who cannot comment on the complaint because it is still ongoing.
The policies were a compilation of updated guidelines from a litany of sources including the Office of Civil Rights, the Department of Education, the Violence Against Women Act, Virginia law and the White House, Boehman said, making a point to hold the old, three-page sexual misconduct policy next to the new, 31-page policy for emphasis.
Since Aug. 26, 2014, Richmond has received 49 reported incidents of sexual misconduct, a higher rate of reports than at peer universities. That is a positive sign, said Kerry Fankhauser, associate dean of Westhampton College and deputy Title IX coordinator.
The higher rate of reporting means that a similar amount of sexual misconduct is occurring at Richmond, but women feel more comfortable to come forward and talk about it than at other universities, Fankhauser said.
“What we know is people coming forward and sharing their experience is a good thing,” Fankhauser said. “We want people to talk about what has happened to them. Ultimately, we want to break the silence around this issue and take away the stigma that often comes with it, so we want them to come forward and hear their options.”
Despite those encouraging signs, the overall reporting rate for sexual misconduct still pales in comparison to what experts estimate the actual amount of sexual misconduct to be. A school the size of Richmond can expect 50-60 rapes, 150 stalking cases and 100 sexual assaults per year, according to national statistics cited by Fankhauser.
The question-and-answer period was lively during the town hall meeting. When asked whether there were any patterns to the reports, Fankhauser said, “Alcohol is the most common denominator. We have yet to see a case of nonconsensual sexual intercourse…that has not involved alcohol by at least one party.”
On the new policy for cases involving a lack of witnesses or physical evidence, or “he said she said” cases, the investigation initially leans toward women “50.01 percent,” and the investigation process usually leads to further evidence, Fankhauser said.
Many students questioned Fankhauser and Daniel Fabian, associate dean of Richmond College and deputy Title IX coordinator, about the specifics of the sexual misconduct reporting process and the procedures that follow.
Once a sexual misconduct complaint is received, Fankhauser and Fabian review the report to determine if sexual misconduct may have taken place. If they determine that it was a possibility, they begin to meet and interview the victim, the accused and witnesses. This stage can last as few as three meetings and as many as 60. Ultimately, they conclude whether the case should proceed to the conduct deans, Associate Dean Patrick Benner or Associate Dean Charm Bullard. At that point, Fankhauser and Fabian are finished with their portion of the process.
“Dan and Kerry’s work as Title IX trainers and investigators have become a model for other institutions, and we are very fortunate to have them leading our efforts in this very important area.” Bisese said.
When asked how many of the 49 reports were referred to the conduct deans, neither Fankhauser nor Fabian could give an estimate off the top of their heads.
“Forty-nine reports since August 26 is comparable to what’s happening across Virginia and across the nation,” said Jules Irvin-Rooney, Westhampton College '03, a Title IX and Clery Act consultant who advises federally funded schools on proper guidelines.
“It’s very important for UR to have more transparency,” Irvin-Rooney said, noting that she could only find an abbreviated, eight-page policy online instead of the full, 31-page policy touted by Boehman.
Irvin-Rooney stressed the importance of off-campus options for students to turn to in cases of sexual misconduct.
“It is highly recommended by federal guidelines that other people are involved off campus,” Irvin-Rooney said. “Say I’m a dean of Richmond College, but I’m also a Title IX coordinator. Who’s paying my paycheck?”
While Irvin-Rooney said she felt that off-campus options were considered best practice, she also said she felt that the Richmond administrators overall were doing very well.
“I see no conflict of interest. ... I think they’re doing great work,” Irvin-Rooney said. “I think UR is making some good, proactive steps.”
Some of those proactive steps in the updated policy include clarity on the roles of administrators and information regarding where to go for help in cases of suspected sexual misconduct. A flowchart of the administrative process is being developed as well in order to make victims’ options clearer and avoid forcing a victim to comb through a written procedural outline to understand the sexual misconduct policies.
“[Sexual misconduct] is a serious issue," said Steve Bisese, vice president for student development. "You hear in the media that some schools try to throw this under the rug. We've never had that motive. We've made the policies easier to understand and read."
One example of the administration’s attempts to tackle this issue was the UR Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Violence and Bystander Intervention, but Bisese said the survey had had a very low response rate.
Beth Curry, coordinator for sexual misconduct education and advocacy, spoke about the importance of bystander intervention.
“Every single one of you in this room is going to be in a position to be a bystander, either directly or indirectly, to some form of violence in college, if you haven’t already,” Curry said. “We’ve got to wonder what is happening in our culture that is allowing these numbers to be sustainable year after year after year.”
Curry implored students to support Spiders for Spiders, a social movement on campus focused on ending sexual violence that provides bystander awareness training.
“Cultural change cannot happen with tweaks in the policy,” Curry said. “It can’t happen with some administrators. It’s got to happen with you and your friends.”
Contact reporter Daniel Heifetz at Danny.firstname.lastname@example.org